Why is inclusive education important?

Inclusive education is essential because it stresses the diversity of all people while valuing this difference.

Inclusive teaching practice takes a proactive approach through focusing on universal design to learning that anticipates learner diversity and therefore works towards benefiting all students.

- Deakin Diversity and Inclusion Team

It is the commitment our institution holds within its DNA – to treasure the diversity of our community and work to build and maintain a safe, equitable, and humane culture. One in which all can thrive and be transformed positively through their educational experiences. The importance of inclusive teaching is mandated in Deakin University policy wherein: ‘The Academic Board will ensure that all courses approved for initial and continuing accreditation comply with the principles for inclusive education‘ (Diversity and Inclusion Policy 2017). 

In practice, Inclusive education involves understanding the various dimensions of learner diversity and expanding your teaching practice to engage more meaningfully with your learners to promote a culture of belonging. Your inclusive education journey will continuously evolve based on your reflective teaching practice. This toolkit provides context and practical strategies to help you expand on what you already do well while introducing new ways of seeing, knowing, and teaching inclusive education.

Ways of thinking about your inclusive education practice

Inclusive approaches to teaching and learning in higher education are critical for providing access for all students regardless of their prior learning experience, socio-cultural background, personal abilities or circumstances. This knowledge is crucial given that we have a very diverse learner community. The nature of such diversity is discussed in more detail later—see Teaching diverse learners.

It is essential to be aware of student diversity in our context at Deakin. However, this is not a static process because we work within a dynamic and living educational culture. Knowing your students is about having an ongoing reflexive attitude that is responsive and attuned to the compositions of different groups of people with a primary focus on knowing your learners. This knowing is foundational to creating a culture of inclusion where all can know, learn, and thrive together.

Ways of knowing your learners

We know that Deakin has a vibrant and diverse, ever-evolving community and that a culture of inclusion and belonging enriches the educational experience of all. The toolkit offers a wealth of practical techniques and strategies that will inform your approach to inclusive education. However, building an inclusive learning culture begins with knowing your learners.

Three key questions to ask yourself when preparing to teach

We advocate taking a proactive stance toward your inclusive teaching practice. Ask yourself the following three questions:

  • What prior knowledge or experiences are students bringing into the learning environment, and how can I build upon that?
  • What are some of the physical, conceptual, linguistic, and cultural barriers that may exclude students from succeeding?
  •  How will I ensure that all students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and understanding to achieve the learning outcomes?

Ways of answering these questions

Know your students

There are many ways of knowing your learners:

Class lists: obtain class and photo lists of your students from STAR to gain some sense of your student diversity. You will need to request access to STAR if you don’t already have it.
Students with a disability: check with your unit chair to find out if any students have a Learning Access Plan (LAP) and if there are there any note-takers in your seminars. Do you know what you can do to support students with a disability?
Review physical learning environments: check physical learning spaces and assess that the layout is accessible and inclusive. Rearrange the room in a circle or semi-circle to encourage inclusive participation. For more information about evaluating physical learning spaces, see Located learning spaces.

Check teaching technologies

Arrive early to check that you can operate technology and that it is all working. Contact the IT HelpDesk if you require assistance. All phones in teaching spaces have a marked line to IT Help.

Check teaching materials

Check that your teaching materials comprise a range of accessible formats, ensuring that no students will be disadvantaged.

Become familiar with student support services

  1. Find out where to direct students to get Help, such as study support and faculty-student services: Arts and EducationBusiness and LawHealth and Science, Engineering and Built Environment.
  2. Remember, you are not expected to do it all on your own.
  3. See Teaching support services at a glance for a complete directory of student services.

Ways of knowing first-year students

Irrespective of who they are and where they come from, all students will experience being a first year student and it is something all of us in higher education can relate to. It is important to acknowledge that this is a special time in their educational journey and as such the strategies we have highlighted for knowing your learners are fundamental to the first-year experience.

I think there needs to be acknowledgement of how difficult it is if you’re a first in family or coming from a background where you didn’t necessarily expect to be at uni but here you are … I think that needs to be consciously and clearly articulated and normalised. Not just, “Oh hello. All the students here today, welcome to the university,” [and] not really engaging with the fact that they’re sitting there in that head space … You can do a three-minute presentation on imposter syndrome and just make fun of it … “If you experience this, don’t back out. This is normal. You’ll grow through it. You can adapt.” …[But] it needs to be said.

Student quotation cited in Devlin & McKay (2017, p. 66)

Prof. Sally Kift offers a wonderful perspective on how to engage your first-year learners in Transition pedagogies: creating the conditions for success. In this video Sally walks through the diversity and complexity of the first-year student experience – She advocates for ‘intentional first year design’ and the importance that building of a sense of belonging holds within this process.

This sense of belonging permeates throughout the educational experience and underpins inclusive education at Deakin. While inclusive education is an integral part of executing and delivering on Deakin’s strong commitment to building and maintaining itself as an inclusive institution, it is much more than a professional obligation – it is a drive towards equity and social justice that enables economic and personal empowerment through education.


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